Marriage by abduction, a common practice in parts of Ethiopia, occurs when a man kidnaps a woman or girl, rapes her, and then pressures her to marry him. Though both abduction and rape are crimes under Ethiopian law, abductors and rapists who marry their victims were not subject to punishment under the Ethiopian Penal Code.
Makeda’s case: Rape, abduction and forced marriage
2002: Supporting Makeda
We initiate a campaign to help Makeda, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and raped in southeast Ethiopia. She is rescued and her rapist is arrested, but he gets released on bail and abducts her again, holding her captive for a month. She escapes, but after is forced to sign a marriage certificate. We call on Ethiopia to get justice for Makeda and to properly punish abductors.
2003: Bringing Makeda's case to the highest national court
Makeda’s abductors are sentenced to prison in July. But in December, the decision is overturned by an appeals court, and they are released. With support from Equality Now and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), Makeda and her father appeal the decision to Ethiopia’s highest court, to no avail. Her abductors remain free, and all national legal avenues are exhausted.
2005: Ethiopia repeals rape exemption law
Following additional advocacy efforts by us and EWLA, Ethiopia repeals the law that allows a rapist to go unpunished if he marries his victim. While we continue to fight for justice for Makeda, this change in the law is a monumental step forward to protect girls across Ethiopia.
2007: Taking Makeda's case to the African Commission
Together with EWLA, we file a complaint with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Makeda, arguing that the Ethiopian government’s failure to punish Makeda’s rapist is a violation of its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
2008: Makeda's Case Gets International Attention
At the government’s request, we start negotiations for an amicable settlement on Makeda’s behalf. After years of stalled progress, in April 2010 we ask the African Commission to finally rule as to whether the case is admissible so that we can proceed. Makeda’s case is featured in Half the Sky, a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
2014: African Commission Admits the Case
The African Commission finds the case admissible, which was a good sign, as most cases are dismissed before reaching the merits stage. We submit a brief on the merits of the case in May 2014. Following the Ethiopian government’s reply, we submitted a final brief in October 2014.
2016: Makeda Wins!
Nearly 15 years after she was abducted and nine years after our first complaint to the African Commission, Makeda wins her case! In a precedent-setting decision, the Commission ruled that Ethiopia had failed to protect her and prevent her abduction, rape, and forced marriage. This is the first time the Commission has dealt with an abduction, rape and forced marriage case.
“The rape of [Makeda] constituted a serious violation of her dignity, integrity, and personal security…She was abducted and raped… she was denied justice by the failures of the prosecution and judicial authorities… Having failed to prevent the violations and render appropriate remedies through the criminal justice system, [Ethiopia] now bears responsibility for the violations...”
-From the decision Equality Now vs. Ethiopia
The decision also requests that Ethiopia pay Makeda $150,000 – a significant award – for her suffering; calls for more measures to specifically deal with marriage by abduction and rape; and for Ethiopia to implement judicial training and report back to the Commission within 180 days.
Makeda, who is safe and focused on her education, is happy about the decision, allowing her to finally close this chapter in her life. We are thrilled that Makeda finally received justice and hope it will have a positive ripple effect on current and future generations of girls in Ethiopia - and across Africa.